Washington has reportedly nixed a fighter jet deal worth $400 million, over concerns about technology leakage. United States blocked the sale of 12 T-50 Golden Eagles from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to Uzbekistan.
The jets, jointly developed by KAI and Lockheed Martin in 2006, are designed as supersonic trainers and multirole fighters. Lockheed Martin promotes them as delivering “the fighter-like performance and capabilities needed to eliminate 5th Generation training gaps and inefficiencies.” Although the T-50 and its variants are Korea’s first indigenous supersonic aircraft, the jets use Lockheed Martin’s avionics system and engines, making their sale a matter of U.S. concern. Although Lockheed Martin’s advertising material proclaim that the T-50 was “envisioned to be exported to other countries” it seems Uzbekistan doesn’t quite measure up.
A source told the Korea Times that “KAI has been in negotiations with the Uzbek government to export the supersonic trainers, but the U.S. government is opposing the deal, citing possible technology leakage and diplomatic policy.”
A presumably Korean military source honed in on Uzbekistan’s relations with Russia as the main cause for concern in comments to the Korea Times, saying, “As Uzbekistan has close ties with Russia, the U.S. is worried that an export of T-50s to Uzbekistan may lead to its technologies being transferred to Russia.”
The article also mentions Uzbekistan’s membership–along with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan–in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as cause for concern. But this seems a touch overblown. Uzbekistan may be a member of the SCO–a political, economic and military organization–but it dropped out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russian-led Eurasian military alliance, in 2012. Put more clearly: membership in the SCO does not necessarily mean technology in Tashkent’s hands will, by default, be transferred to Moscow.
In April, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Korean and Uzbek defense ministers, Han Min-koo and Kabul Berdiev. Berdiev, according to AKIpress, piloted an FA-50 flight simulator during his visit to Seoul. The FA-50 is a multirole fighter variant of the T-50. Jane’s categorized the MOU with Uzbekistan, in addition to Korean overtures to other nations, as evidence of Seoul’s “efforts to boost its presence in international military export markets.”
South Korea has already settled deals with Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Iraq for the T-50 and its variants. In January 2014, the final two (of an order of 16) T-50s were delivered to Indonesia. Iraq is expected to take delivery of the first of the 24 T-50s it has purchased in 2016. In 2017, the Philippines is scheduled to begin receiving the first of 12 FA-50s and the following year Thailand will take delivery of four trainer aircraft. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) has ordered 60 FA-50s.
According to SIPRI, South Korea ranked 13th globally in arms exports (in the period from 2009 to 2013).
The Korea Times‘ source said that Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) hasn’t given up on the $400 million Uzbek sale quite yet, saying that “Despite the U.S. opposition, DAPA will step up efforts to persuade Washington to approve the deal.” By Catherine Putz for The Diplomat